By John Ring
This is the first article IÕve ever written on a train; a Euro Train, no less because I took my family on a vacation in Europe for the last week.
And since IÕm there and the big sports news is Spain winning in soccer and a Wimbledon final that was pretty good, this weekly article is more centered on baseball and the 10 year anniversary of a great Silver Streaks team.
One aside—Galesburg was actually mentioned on CNN International but it was related to the homicidal spree that took place last week.
So while enroute from Venice to Florence, a venture to the past, decade by decade, at some of the finer moments in baseball history starting with 1968.
For those my age, 1968 was one of the most pivotal, exciting, sad, crazy and important years of our lives. The siege of Khe Sanh. Tet. King and Bobby Kennedy assassinated. Riots in Chicago. Democrats in disarray and they still nearly won the Presidential election and probably would have if not for third party candidate George Wallace.
In baseball, 1968 was the Year of the Pitcher. Denny McLain won 31 games in the regular season. Bob Gibson had an earned run average that is legendary--- 1.12 and he lost nine games. Don Drysdale set the consecutive inning record for scoreless innings. 22 year-old Catfish Hunter threw a perfect game in Oakland before a crowd of just 6,000 fans. The All Star Game was a 1-0 affair, the lone run scoring on a double play.
The World Series was just as memorable. To get outfielder Al KalineÕs potent bat in the lineup after coming off the disabled list, Detroit manager Mayo Smith made a bold move; he switched outfielder Mickey Stanley to shortstop to get Kaline in rightfield. It didnÕt matter at first. Gibson struck out 17 Detroit Tigers in the first game as St. Louis won easily. Aside from a Mickey Lolich win, the Cardinals streaked to a 3-1 lead. Lolich bested St. Louis again in Game 5 and then McLain received a cortisone injection in his shoulder and beat the Cardinals in Game 6. On just two days rest, Lolich was matched against Gibson in Game 7 and Detroit won on Jim NorthrupÕs triple that was misjudged by Cardinal centerfielder Curt Flood. Lolich won his third game and Detroit had the Series.
This was in the middle of Jimmy CarterÕs only term of office in the Presidency. It was the Òcrises of confidenceÓ years, so claimed by Carter, whose answer to the fuel crises was to wear a sweater and turn down the thermostat in the White House. It was the summer of lines at the gas station and rationing of gas. At least Carter didnÕt encourage to have buttons made, similar to what his predecessor (Gerald Ford) did for inflation—Whip Inflation Now.
The most memorable thing about 1978 in baseball was the only modern day challenge to Joe DiMaggioÕs vaunted record of getting a hit in 56 consecutive games. Pete Rose made a serious bid to accomplish that feat. The guy who canÕt make the Hall of Fame reached 44 games in a row before being stopped. In the days before cable and ESPN, his streak made the headline news bites before every hour.
Three times Rose saved his streaks with bunts. At 44 games, the Reds played in Atlanta and Rose drew a blank against lefthanded rookie pitcher Larry McWilliams. In the 9th inning with the Braves ahead 16-4, closer Gene Garber came in. Not needing to throw strikes, Garber threw an assortment of curves and sliders, eventually striking out Rose.
Lights at Wrigley Field—the Cubs knocked off the Mets 6-4 at the first night game. The Orioles started off the season 0-6 and fired Manager Cal Ripken Senior, replaced him with Frank Robinson and they proceeded to lose the next 15 games to start off the season 0-21. Ton Browning threw a perfect game but it was Orel Hershiser and the Dodgers that dominated 1988. Hershiser broke DrysdaleÕs record for consecutive scoreless innings (59) and then Kirk GibsonÕs dramatic home run in Game 1 of the World Series led the Dodgers to a five-game triumph over Oakland. Jack BuckÕs call of that home run is simply brilliant. Gibson basically smacked it on one leg off the best relief pitcher in baseball, Rollie Fingers.
Has it been ten years since the Joey and Rod Show?
Hard to believe. But many sensed what was going to happen that basketball season because of what happened the summer before.
The Silver Streaks played Chicago Fenwick in the championship game of a basketball tournament that summer and lost in overtime. But it showed them what they were capable of. I met with a bunch of the Streaks at Carver Center two nights later and talked to Jason Wessels and Patrick Hanlon about their experience. It was obviously a big confidence booster for them.
Other things that stand out about that season.
In terms of quality teams in Illinois, 1998 was unprecedented. Two Western Big 6 teams (Galesburg and Quincy) were in the Final Four. Another (Moline) lost just three games all year, all of them to Galesburg.
Mike Miller was the perfect coach for this team. He had already taken one team to the championship game and his personality and charm quickly won over Streak fans when he was hired the year before. The 98 Streaks were potentially a volatile team but nothing ever happened to disrupt their season. A lot of that was because of Miller.
They stuck together when Wessels nearly died from an illness. They played a tough schedule. They won 30 games and are arguably the best Silver Streak basketball team of all time.